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Phrasal verbs

Do you know how to use verbs in phrases like pick the kids up, turn the music down and look after my cat?

Look at these examples to see how phrasal verbs are used.

This is the form. Please can you fill it in?
Why are you bringing that argument up now?
Police are looking into connections between the two crimes.
We need to come up with a solution.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Separable and non-separable multi-word verbs: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Phrasal verbs are very common in English, especially in more informal contexts. They are made up of a verb and a particle or, sometimes, two particles. The particle often changes the meaning of the verb.

I called Jen to see how she was. (call = to telephone)
They've called off the meeting. (call off = to cancel)

In terms of word order, there are two main types of phrasal verb: separable and inseparable. 

Separable

With separable phrasal verbs, the verb and particle can be apart or together.

They've called the meeting off.
OR
They've called off the meeting.

However, separable phrasal verbs must be separated when you use a pronoun. 

The meeting? They've called it off.

Here are some common separable phrasal verbs:

I didn't want to bring the situation up at the meeting.
(bring up = start talking about a particular subject)

Please can you fill this form in?
(fill in = write information in a form or document)

I'll pick you up from the station at 8 p.m.
(pick up = collect someone in a car or other vehicle to take them somewhere)

She turned the job down because she didn't want to move to Glasgow.
(turn down = to not accept an offer)

Non-separable

Some phrasal verbs cannot be separated. 

Who looks after the baby when you're at work?

Even when there is a pronoun, the verb and particle remain together.

Who looks after her when you're at work?

Here are some common non-separable phrasal verbs:

I came across your email when I was clearing my inbox.
(come across = to find something by chance)

The caterpillar turned into a beautiful butterfly.
(turn into = become)

It was quite a major operation. It took months to get over it and feel normal again.
(get over = recover from something)

We are aware of the problem and we are looking into it.
(look into = investigate)

Some multi-word verbs are inseparable simply because they don't take an object.

I get up at 7 a.m.

With two particles

Phrasal verbs with two particles are also inseparable. Even if you use a pronoun, you put it after the particles.

Who came up with that idea?
(come up with = think of an idea or plan)

Let's get rid of these old magazines to make more space.
(get rid of = remove or become free of something that you don't want)

I didn't really get on with my stepbrother when I was a teenager.
(get on with = like and be friendly towards someone)

Can you hear that noise all the time? I don't know how you put up with it.
(put up with = tolerate something difficult or annoying)

The concert's on Friday. I'm really looking forward to it.
(look forward to = be happy and excited about something that is going to happen)

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Separable and non-separable multi-word verbs: Grammar test 2

Language level

Upper intermediate: B2

Comments

I did merely read these phrase verb I understood easily but how can I remember or remind himself because of they are load to difficult for me to remember in mind,

Could you explain it.

Hello Karan Narang,

I wish I could offer an easy solution to memorisation, but I'm afraid it's just a question of practice, practice and more practice! The more you use the language, the more strongly it will be embedded in your memory.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teachers,
I need to fill in this gap with a phrasal verb with "go," but no one seems to fit. The verb "go" would work, but I need a phrasal verb.

Does any of these sentences make sense?
- We must GO ON if we want to reach a shelter before it gets dark. (??)
- We must GO BACK if we want to reach a shelter before it gets dark. (??)

Could you give me a better option, if there is one, please?
Thank you!

Hello Amaura,

Both options are grammatically possible and make sense. However, the first one is better as the use of 'a' makes a new shelter likely to be the goal, rather than a shelter that was already visited (this would likely be 'the shelter').

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Non-separable :turned into

It is wrong to separate the above?
For example “what has come over Joe, what has he TURNED himself into?
Thank you.

Hello Mart Martinson

When it doesn't have an object (for example, 'the caterpillar turned into a butterfly'), 'turn into' is non-separable.

When 'turn into' has an object (for example, 'the wizard turned the prince into a frog'), it is a separable phrasal verb.

If I understand the sentence you mention correctly, I think it should be a non-separable verb without the reflex pronoun 'himself': 'What has come over Joe? He's turned into someone I don't know.'

Does that sound right?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Dear teachers,
Is there a simple way to differentiate separable and non separable phrasal verbs?
Can I say both "see me off" and "see off me"

Hello Habijak,

I'm afraid there is no simple way to tell these apart just from their appearance. You need to memorise which are which, unfortunately.

See off is a separable multi-word verb. The object can come before the particle or after it:

He saw his wife off at the airport.

He saw off his wife at the airport.

 

However, if the object is a pronoun, it must come before the particle:

He saw her off at the airport.

Not - He saw off her at the airport.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teachers,
could you explain to me, please, where is the main difference between phrasal verbs and idioms?

Hello Evgeny

Phrasal verbs are formed from a verb and one or more prepositions or adverbs. They mean something different from the simple combination of words.

Idioms are groups of words (including but not limited to verbs, prepositions or adverbs) that come in a specific order. Like phrasal verbs, they don't have a literal meaning.

For example, 'to work out' and  'to back up' are both phrasal verbs formed from a verb and particle, and their meanings (to exercise in a gym, to make an extra copy of computer files) are not discernible from just the words. But in the sentence 'The test was a piece of cake', the idiom 'a piece of cake' has no verb (and therefore is not a phrasal verb but rather an idiom) but has meaning that is not discernible from just the words (very easy).

I hope this helps.

Best wishes

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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